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Classical Protagonists – Medieval Postures

Body Language in Early Medieval Illustrations of Late Antique Texts

Acta Historiae Artium Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae
Anna Boreczky

The primary aim of my paper is to reveal the possible role of illustrations in the (re)interpretation of a text as seen in the example of an Ottonian image cycle illustrating a Late Antique adventure story. The work in question is the so-called Apollonius pictus (Budapest, National Széchényi Library, Cod. Lat. 4), a manuscript fragment consisting of three and a half large parchment leaves that contain the oldest known illustration cycle of the History of Apollonius, king of Tyre (Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri). The images (thirty-eight red line drawings) focus on the protagonists; with the exception of some ships, a few buildings and curtains, there is almost nothing that alludes to the mise-en-scène. In spite of their relative simplicity, the images effectively articulate the meaning of the story by means of the protagonists’ body language. Through the study of their postures and gestures in relation to the text and in the context of other early medieval visual narratives, I arrive at the conclusion that the images offer an alternative reading of the story. This reading gives the leading role to one of the female protagonists, Tarsia, and emphasizes special personality traits and life events that make her similar to saints. Analyzing the communicative function of the illustrations, I shed light on the Ottonian reception and use of classical narrative traditions from a specific perspective.

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